Chapter Seventy Eight
Atlas, then Phaedos, by rhetoric
Word Count: 1,329
She wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“Sit down, Els,” she said, her voice gentle despite the steel in her will. “Please,” she added, as an afterthought. She couldn’t look at his face; not yet, she told herself. She would get him cleaned up, first.
She shook off the lingering thought that the wound over his eye would leave a scar much like Pilot’s. Elseron wasn’t anything like Pilot – and Pilot didn’t have her around when he’d gotten his scar. Elseron did.
She hoped there would be no scar left.
“Princess, I will be fine,” he said, but she could hear the wheezing pain that he hid behind his breath. She scowled at him.
“Elseron,” her voice took on the ring of steel she had fought to keep hidden. She straightened her shoulders and narrowed her golden eyes at him. “You will do as your Queen bids.”
For an instant, his eyes hardened but the longer he looked at her, the softer they became. She was fighting to keep her thoughts to herself but it was clear he was getting something. Some inkling of the warring emotions inside of her.
Without further protest, he seated himself awkwardly on the rim of the tub. Phaedos had warned against getting too much blood on the carpet or furnishings – so they were left with the one room that they could rinse free of all evidence. Atlas stood in the tub, using the towel rack as a make-shift table for her supplies.
With a pair of scissors, she cut off the remnants of his shirt. She’d made him remove his armor outside of the bathroom. The gashes and tears littering his body made her feel sick. She wasn’t certain she had ever seen so much blood on one man, at least not one that was still standing.
With a hot wet rag she wiped the blood from him, avoiding the open wounds until she had wiped the rest of him clean. She got a new cloth and began to clean the wounds. She moved around him fluidly, her legs lifting and stretching over the rim of the bathtub without effort, her eyes focused on her task.
She ignored the crimson stains that began to appear in her hair; seeping up from the tips, streaks of the brilliant red across her curls from her fingers.
He never flinched, and she didn’t look up but she was certain his eyes never left her as she worked. The claw wounds that formed large semi-circles on his sides were the worst; easily the deepest, Atlas could not see where they ended. The damage was severe – they would not stop bleeding, she spent at least twenty minutes putting pressure on each of the wounds, but blood continued to pour. She had to move on, she didn’t know what organs had been damaged and therefore couldn’t predict how much time he would have. It was clear his ribs had been broken in order for the thick claws to pass through, and that made her uncomfortable.
Without all of the rivulets of dried blood, he looked better, but better was not what she had hoped it would be. She still found it marvelous that he could stand, could speak, could think and act the same way he always did, with the gaping holes and tears in his flesh – but he was Elseron, and she supposed it should not surprise her. He was her Guardian, and he would offer nothing less.
She stood behind him, hoping to avoid his gaze, and settled her hands nervously on his shoulders.
“Are you ready?” Her voice was barely a whisper, her words cracking in the middle of her sentence. She cleared her throat.
“Of course,” he said, but she could feel the tension in him.
She was wondering how this would work, too. Wondering if she could do it, after the strain she had put on her inheritance by sending it to him on the battlefield. She had to, she told herself; a Queen would be able to do this, and one that could not would not be worthy of being the Queen.
She gulped down a lungful of air, suppressing the quiver in her breathing, and shut her eyes.
It took everything inside of her to focus enough to access her inheritance. It was buried so far beneath her raging thoughts, beneath the fright and the paranoia and the self-ridicule; trapped inside the walls of her bones, but once she found it, it filled her like a swift tide.
She gasped at the fullness that had seeped inside of her; cold and salty and almost unbearable – it roared to life and capsized her awareness.
She faded away and what was left was raw, unrestrained power. Light radiated from her skin like a beacon; its rays left the bathroom and lit up the entire hotel room. Its brilliant white glow overpowered the warm sunset light streaming in from the window with ease.
Elseron did not turn around to look at her, to look at the ethereal glimmer of her ice-blue runes, the white-hot light of her skin.
He would have gone blind, if he had.
It was a strange feeling for her to transcend. She was present, her awareness like a fine needle-point in the center of the storm. She controlled it, in an instinctual, thoughtless way. She could feel her fingertips as they travelled along Elseron’s skin, feather-light, but with a somewhat electric trail. She felt the nearly-electric pulse of her power leave her fingers, pressing into his muscles.
She knew it hurt him, but he kept the pain sealed away behind his mouth, behind the firm set of his teeth.
Where she touched, his skin lit up with a soft echo of her luminescence. The separated flesh began to stretch inward, to knit together over the bloody insides until there were no more wounds, only burning white lines of healing scars.
The wound over his eye was the worst, as she knew it would be. She felt the agony as a mirror reflection; her face caught fire with the hum and zap of her power. A roar of anguish broke through Elseron’s throat and the sound gutted her.
But her power was in the forefront, and it wasn’t finished. She couldn’t pull back.
The pain receded from her cheekbone as darkness crowded her vision.
Phaedos stood, his back pressed against the wall, the curve of his shoulder visible in the doorway. He had been standing there the entire time Atlas and Elseron occupied the bathroom. He crossed his arms and told himself not to face the light, despite his vicious urge to see. To look upon her as she transcended into her inheritance.
He kept his eyes fixed on the lit up wall across from him. He watched it, monitoring the intensity. The instant it began to dim, he spun around the corner into the bathroom and leaped over Elseron’s hunched form. Elseron was on his knees, gasping, skin aflame with the holy, unearthly glow, his eyes entirely white.
Phaedos’ feet hit the inside of the tub just as his arms caught Atlas. Her eyes shut as his hands grasped her, as if it were the one thing she had been holding out for, waiting for.
The almost-electric surge through his body shook him; his heartbeat stuttered in his chest but he propped himself up against the tile wall and held her, still tighter. He hoped she was unconscious as the waves of static and needles gobbled up his senses. Spasms shook him like small earthquakes, but he never lost his footing.
When they finally ceased, after at least fifteen minutes, he slid their bodies down the wall and sat in the tub, keeping her in his lap. He buried his face in her curls and attempted to regulate his breathing by matching it to her heartbeat.
Elseron shifted beside them, sitting up and letting out a long breath.